Carol Hamilton will share a design thinking process to help you create solutions that are grounded in the experience of your stakeholders and informed by their feedback through a co-creation process.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Carol. I got 2:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and kick off this little party of ours?

Carol: Sounds good.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, welcome, everybody. Good afternoon, if you’re on East Coast. Good morning, I should say if you’re way out on the West Coast. Thanks for being here. We got an awesome webinar for you today from Bloomerang. We’re going to be talking about “Pathways to Innovation: From Informal to Intentional.” Yeah. We’re going to be talking about design thinking. It’s going to be a good one. I’m excited. I’m happy you’re all here. I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session. We’ll be sending out that recording as well as the slides later on today. So, if you have to leave early or you get interrupted, or just want to share it with a friend or a colleague, don’t worry, I’ll get all that good stuff in your hands later on today, so no worries, you won’t miss a thing. I promise.

Most importantly, as you’re listening today, please feel free to chat in any questions or comments along the way. There’s a chat box and a Q&A box. You can use either of those. I’ll keep an eye on both. We’d love to hear from you. We want to answer your questions. We’re going to save a little bit of time at the end for Q&A, so don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. You can send us a tweet also. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed for any questions or comments, but we’d love to hear from you, so don’t be shy.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say an extra special welcome to you folks. If you’ve never been on one of our webinars, you’re in for a treat. We do these a couple of times a week nowadays. We love doing these webinars. They are always free, always educational, but what Bloomerang is most known for if you’re not familiar is our donor management software. That’s what we are a provider of, so if you’re interested in that or just kind of want to learn more about us, check out our website. We’re pretty easy to find. You can watch videos to learn more about us. So that’s just for context in case you’re not familiar with Bloomerang. Don’t do that right now because we have a very special guest, a friend of the program joining us from beautiful Washington D.C. Carol Hamilton, how are you doing? You doing okay?

Carol: I’m good. Thank you for having me on.

Steven: Oh, yeah. I love it. We were joking before that Carol did an awesome webinar for us last August, which I didn’t think it had been that long. I was just thinking, “Oh, Carol was just on. She gave an awesome presentation,” and I was really excited about it, but, of course, now time has no meaning as all of you kind of are aware.

Carol: That’s right.

Steven: Right. But we got her back. Carol is awesome. She’s got tons of experience, over 25 years of experience. Check her out over in Grace Social Sector Consulting. She does a lot of really cool coaching, strategic planning. She does retreats. She does virtual trainings. And her presentations, I really like because they’re always really interesting, and I think that you’re all going to get a unique presentation that maybe you wouldn’t necessarily see on other, you know, fundraising type of webinars and conferences. Really, really cool stuff. So I don’t want to take any time away from Carol. So, Carol, I’m going to stop sharing my screen.

Carol: All right.

Steven: And I’ll let you bring up . . .

Carol: Thank you for that kind introduction.

Steven: Oh, yeah. I love it.

Carol: I’m going to go ahead and share my screen.

Steven: See if it’ll work.

Carol: All right.

Steven: There it goes. Cool.

Carol: Okay. Let me just open this up. I’d like to be able to see who I’m talking to while I’m doing that, so I organize my screens that way to keep myself focused. Yeah. So thanks so much to everybody for calling in. We’re going to be talking about one method to help you move from an informal approach to innovation, to something that’s a little more intentional. As Steve said, my name is Carol Hamilton. I’m with Grace Social Sector Consulting, and you can find me on the web there.

Since we don’t have the chat open, if you would be willing to, in the chat, just tell me what interests you about the topic, that’ll help us as we think about the Q&A, and as Steve said, you can either put any questions or comments in the chat or into the Q&A and we’ll pause at a number of different points to address those questions and comments that folks have. So I’d love to hear what interests you about the topic, what drew you to sign up? What motivated you to spend an hour with us this afternoon?

So I did some research a couple of years ago around how nonprofits approach innovation, and generally, what I found through the interviews that I did with a number of different professionals was that most organizations really don’t have an intentional process for innovation. It’s kind of informal. It kind of depends on, you know, who’s on staff, you have a really creative and innovative leader or not. You know, is the culture open to new ideas? But pretty much a very informal process, and oftentimes, organizations are looking to others about how might we do things differently. Maybe, you know, picking up a good idea at a conference or, you know, bringing something from a previous organization and seeing how that might fit their new situation. Often, it’s top-down.

And Steve and I were joking about this before, but the biggest thing that is so challenging for organizations is to do what I kind of call, well, have you Marie Kondoed your organization, not just your closet? Have you figured out what you need to let go of in terms of those legacy programs that maybe aren’t performing in the way that they used to and aren’t as relevant today to kind of make some space and create some openings for new ways of doing things?

And too often, with that informal approach, folks will come up with ideas. It could be someone influential within your board, a long-term volunteer, a long-term staff person, a new staff person come up with an idea, they’re so excited about it, think that it’s going to work out, and the organization, you know, if they’re persuasive, if they’re an influencer, if they’re able to kind of persuade people and get them on the bandwagon, the organization moves forward with the idea, may invest resources, time, and money, roll something out, and then it’s crickets. And oftentimes, that’s because, you know, they haven’t really identified a need for the folks that they’re serving in the way that the approach that I’m going to talk to you about today in terms of design thinking really gives you.

So you’re really . . . It’s too often kind of an idea looking for a problem versus the other way that I want you to think about it was just flipping it around, starting with the problem and looking for a solution. So that intentional process that I’m going to introduce you to is design thinking. And before we do that, I think we’re going to take a moment to just do a quick poll.

Steven: Okay. Here we go. I’m going to try to bring the first one up. Here we go.

Carol: Want to see how familiar are people with the idea of design thinking. Maybe you’ve led a process, you’re super familiar. Maybe you’ve played with it a little bit. You have no idea. Sounded interesting so you decided to hop on today and learn a little bit more. All right. Well, we do have a couple design thinking experts on the call, so they’re going to be able to contribute a lot, and then we have a lot of folks who were . . . you know. Well, I guess you haven’t shared it to everybody yet, so I’ll wait till you close that poll. Do you want me to close the poll or you’re going to do that, Steve?

Steven: I can close it.

Carol: Okay.

Steven: Looks like most people have answered. Here we go. I’m going to share the results. Hopefully, that will show up. Yeah. Most people said I don’t know. I’m right there with you.

Carol: Yeah. So okay. That’s great. That’s great because this is kind of an overview, so you’re in the right spot, and even if you’ve heard about it or learned a little bit, hopefully, we’ll be able to go a little bit deeper today and also give you a case study of how an organization put it to use so that it’s not just the theoretical. We’re grounding it in an actual experience. So we’re going to talk about what design thinking is. We’re going to talk about the steps that you’ll take in the approach, and part of those steps is working in a co-creation process with the folks that you’re trying to design something for, whether that’s . . . Could be you’re trying to engage volunteers in a new way, or clients that you’re serving, different constituencies that you work with. How can you work with them to design something that’s going to really meet their needs?

So let’s jump into what is design thinking. So I think too often when we think of innovation, we think of creativity, we think that it’s kind of for the select few, it’s for those super creative people who just can’t help themselves but come up with ideas all the time, and perhaps the process of like, how do they go through? What kind of creative process do they have? It seems like a little bit of a black box. It seems a bit mysterious. But we’re well-served by a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business who has taken kind of that spaghetti of, like, well, how does design actually happen? And unraveled it into four clear steps that the rest of us can go ahead and take and apply. So something where, you know, you can . . . They’re pretty simple steps that anyone can learn and apply to their work, so really what is, what if, what wows, and what works, and we’ll dig into each of those over the course of this session.

So design thinking has a couple of principles or building blocks that are really key to keep in mind. Empathy is the first one, and that what is stage really gives you an opportunity to build empathy with the people that you’re designing for. Another name for design thinking is actually human-centered design, so it’s really putting people in the middle, prioritizing people, the people that you’re trying to serve, the people that you’re trying to design something for, those users, those constituents, those clients through a research process, and we’ll talk a little bit about that in a second, build that empathy, understand their world, kind of be able to walk in their shoes, if you will. And then moving to invention, so that brainstorming that anyone will think of when they think of innovation, and then a process of iterating. So you’re not just stopping at, you know, your first prototype, but going through multiple iterations as you build out and not jumping to a big investment right off, but really going for small bets at first. So let’s look at the steps in the approach.

So let’s dig into the what is stage. And in this stage, you really are doing two things. First, you’re defining what your challenge is, and you’ll often come up with a design question that you’re going to work on. I was helping out with internship program that taught high school students this summer design thinking, and the team that I was mentoring, their design challenge was how might we rebuild the hospitality industry in D.C. in the event of COVID? Because obviously, events, travel, all of that has shut down, hotels are shuttered, etc. What might the city do? What might people do to be able to kind of restart that industry?

So that’s a type of challenge, the type of question that you might start with, and that one was very big. So one of the things you’re going to want to do is, like, are we trying to boil the ocean? Is the challenge too big? Do we need to scale it down a little bit? Or are we asking such a small question that it actually doesn’t need . . . you know. There might already be an answer for it. So kind of trying to find that Goldilocks spot of just the right point in terms of your design question, but scoping that out is going to be one of those first important things.

And then thinking about who your stakeholders are. And I think that’s always an important consideration for almost any project in a nonprofit is thinking about who’s important, you know, to be involved. And it’s on both sides. Who are you going to want to engage in terms of the research that you’re going to be doing in this stage? And then who within your organization is going to need to be kept informed and be involved throughout the process as you build out something new.

So one of the ways that you can do this research and generally the research that you’re doing for a design thinking project is not your traditional market research. It’s not a lot of surveys. It’s not a lot of quantitative data. You’re generally going for more of a qualitative approach. So this might be in the form of interviews, phone interviews, now video interviews, focus groups with people.

I know of one organization that asked a number of members of theirs to do kind of a day in the life video and just video their . . . of course, this was pre-COVID, video their workspace, what kind of things were going on so that you could really get a sense of what’s their day like? What are the challenges that they’re facing? What are they experiencing in the flow of their work? And this was for an organization that served them as part of their work. In another organization that’s serving different clients, you know, you might have different ways you would want to go about this, but interviews either face-to-face or over the phone can be a useful way to get that started. You usually don’t need to do more than 10 to 12, 15 because you’re really looking for inspiration rather than validation at this stage of the process.

Another tool that’s really handy is called a customer journey map or a client journey map, and this is where you might sit down with somebody or do over a video conference and have someone just describe their journey related to whatever the challenges that you’re working on, related to the issue that you do in terms of your work, and have them really describe it from their point of view so you may have an idea of what they have to do to maybe get to your organization, find your services, and they may describe a process that totally misses you.

And it’s really thinking about it from their point of view. Not only the steps that they take but then at each step how are they feeling about it? You know, are they frustrated? Are they excited about something? What are the ups and downs as they go through that journey? What are the things that they’re thinking about? Who are the other people that might be involved? So it gives you a visual way, a way to really visually represent the experience of the people that you’re serving. This also can be a way for you to take all the information you’ve gathered from interviews and then map it out in terms of kind of what are the common themes we’re seeing about what peoples’ experiences.

So, when we did this, I worked in an organization that served the higher education. I was working with a client that served the higher education field, and we had done a series of interviews, and then we gathered all of those and gathered a group of staff people to really look at what are the themes that we’re seeing? So we went beyond the few people that were on the cross-functional team that we had pulled together to work on the project and have people walk around and just say . . . you know, with a clipboard and Post-it Notes, again, this was all pre-social distancing, and just saying, you know, “What are 20 to 30 quotes that you’re seeing?” Had them get together, kind of cluster those, theme them. Then we took all the results from the different teams, and then the core team that was working on the project kind of came up with the final results. And what we were looking for in that synthesis was what were the pain points that people were experiencing.

Oftentimes, when you’re doing market research, you may fall into the trap of asking people what they want or what they need, and too often, people really can’t tell you. There’s that old adage that, you know, Ford, if he had asked people what they had wanted, they would say they wanted a faster horse and carriage. So they can’t imagine beyond what they have now oftentimes. So rather than asking people directly what they want or need, you’re kind of coming at it from a lot of different angles and more indirectly, but that’s ultimately what you’re looking for in between the lines and what they’re saying. So we looked for those insights, and before we jump into the next stage, Steve, let’s go ahead and do the next poll.

Steven: Okay. Let me see if I can bring it up here. So this is the brainstorming one, right, Carol? Okay. Here we go.

Carol: All right. So we’ll give you a couple of minutes to respond to that question. What do you think of brainstorming? Probably if you sign up for a webinar on innovation, you might be more on the like it side than the hate it side, but not every . . . This is what I learned because I tend to be an idea person. I had to learn through doing some of these projects and not everybody loves brainstorming, which was a surprise to me.

Steven: I’ll give a few more seconds. Looks like almost everybody . . .

Carol: Sounds good.

Steven: It’s like I love it is winning.

Carol: Yeah. I’m surprised.

Steven: Nice.

Carol: All right. I’m glad. Well, you guys are in the right place then because brainstorming is the core part of this whole process, so I’m glad that you enjoy it. And for those of you who don’t like it or it seems like a waste of time, it’s probably because you had that bad brainstorming done to you. So there is better brainstorming and worst brainstorming. It really depends on how you facilitate it and how you set up the process.

So, in that what if stage, once you’ve identified those key insights from the what is stage in your research, you’re then ready to do that brainstorming. So, you know, one of the questions that you’ll ask in a variety of different ways is how might you address the need that you’re looking at? So you’ve identified a couple of different needs, a couple of different pain points, how might we address this? And generally, for good brainstorming, you’re going to want to really go for quantity first.

You know, this is where people say, you know, there are no bad ideas and then other people roll their eyes, because we know that not every idea is a good one. But the thing is that when you’re brainstorming, you really need to set that discriminating, evaluating part of your brain aside for a minute to allow your brain to think wildly, think a little more creatively. There will be time in the process where you start honing things down, so you kind of don’t need to worry about.

And one of the best ways to help make sure that all the voices, everyone’s ideas get into the mix is to actually have everybody work individually, silently first, and this is where . . . you know. I keep saying that I need to buy stock in 3M for all the Post-it Notes that I use. And now in this virtual space, it’s different platforms where you can do virtual Post-it Notes. But it’s, you know, one idea per Post-it Note as many as you can, but having people work individually first allows all the voices to get in rather than just that highest-paid voice in the room or the most verbal person or the one who can come up with ideas the quickest. So that’s a really important place to start is to just let everybody work individually first.

So then you have a lot of little Post-it Notes, a lot of little ideas, you start making sense of them. What goes together? What might we build on? How might we build to, you know, different concepts? Kind of taking pieces, like little bit of a . . . almost like playing Lego where you’re kind of putting different things together. And this is the mess that we made in a conference room on a big whiteboard where things started kind of emerging as we saw different ideas for how we might solve the particular problem that we were working on. And, in this case, one of them was for this organization, they had not done as good a job of engaging senior leaders in their membership as people more entry-level in the field, and so they were looking for how can we engage those folks? How can we provide value?

And one of the things that I like about design thinking is that it really is not about finding that one right answer early in the process. It’s about looking at a variety of ideas, and we even moved forward to the testing with anywhere from four to five ideas per project. So, you know, we kept that open, went through a couple of different iterations even before we tested with people, but we were not trying to hone down in the very early stages. We were trying to keep things open at first.

And one of the things we did with the teams to really dig into taking what could have been kind of a vague idea and making it more concrete was actually having them do what’s called a storyboard. So we had them sketch out. You can see in this picture, maybe vaguely a little bit or maybe too small to see, but those are little boxes. Essentially, like, a storyboard is kind of a graphic novel or comic book where you just . . . you know. What’s the first step that somebody who might do this program might do? What’s the next step? What’s the next step? Definitely not worrying about people’s artistic capacity. You know, stick figures were fine. It was just to kind of make it concrete and have people think through what would it actually . . . ? What would the experience be like for those that would do the program? And then getting feedback from different team members.

So this is what one of those storyboards looked like in its first draft. Kind of not super polished but it got the idea across. And a lot of times in our work, maybe in the past, writing up a grant proposal or other things about a new program, it can be very wordy, very dense. Using more visuals and using tools that get people to be visual about their idea can really help people understand your concepts much faster. So, Steve, let’s just pause. I don’t know. We haven’t got any questions in the Q&A yet, but I don’t know if there’s any comments or anything that came through in the chat that you’d like to have me address at this point.

Steven: Yeah. One person is wondering, or kind of making a comment, which I’m wondering what your response is is they want to do brainstorming but they have trouble warming up the group. You know, it’s kind of hard to jump right into everybody shooting off ideas. Any advice for how to get the brainstorming kind of up and running?

Carol: Well, the first thing is to not have people shoot ideas verbally. So just what I described, which is to have a pile of post-its and if you’re working virtually you can use something like Jamboard. It’s a Google tool that allows you to do post-its online. There are other systems like Miro and MURAL that also allow you to do that. So you just start there. You start at everybody working on their own and generating as many ideas as you can.

And you’ll probably want to have also a couple of trigger questions. So a good one is thinking about, you know, whatever your challenge is, is there an organization that’s kind of analogous to yours but isn’t in the same industry? So, for example, you know, for a particular challenge you might say, “Well, how would FedEx approach this?” Or, “How would a university approach this?” If you were some other kind of organization. And getting yourself out of your own circumstances can help you also think differently. You know, how would . . . ? Imagine yourself as a different person, so how would BeyoncĂ© tackle this? Or just kind of helping people get outside of their day-to-day thinking can kind of break those off. So just having different trigger questions can be really helpful.

Steven: Cool. Cool. There’s another one in here, but I think you’re going to cover it in a future slide, but if you don’t, I’ll come back to it.

Carol: The free Post-it Note platforms Sheryl was asking about, so if you have Google Suite or if you dig down into their apps you will see something called Jamboard and that’s a tool that you can use. And the other ones, generally, you have to pay for, but you can do a couple for free. Usually, they have a free trial. All right. So any others before we move on, Steve, or . . .

Steven: I think you’re good to go.

Carol: Okay. All right.

Steven: Sweet.

Carol: So let’s dive into the last two steps in the process. This is where, you know, you’ve got a set of ideas, you’ve done that brainstorming, you’ve gone from a lot of little ideas, you’ve built them up to maybe five different concepts, you’ve storyboarded them. We use storyboards throughout to do our testing, and then you need to test with your audience.

I’m sorry. Maria has asked this question twice, so I just want to answer it because it’s still about brainstorming. Is brainstorming methods applicable in small crews? I would say yes. You don’t need a ton of people, you know. Three people can be plenty for a team to work on a challenge. It doesn’t need to be a lot of folks, but just having a few people involved once you’ve done that individual will help people build on each other’s ideas and you’ll start seeing some commonalities and some things to build out in terms of concepts. So, in terms of those, you’ve got let’s say five concepts at this point. You’ve done some storyboards, and you need to test them with your audience.

And so the thing that’s different about doing this versus maybe what we might have done in the past and done traditionally where we would have then gone to a pilot, we would try to get that pilot funded. This testing that you’re doing, you can do it much less expensive, much less . . . You’re not expending a ton of organizational resources. The storyboards that we did, we did have an illustrator work on them, and I’ll show you what those look like in a minute. You know, so that was a little bit of an investment, but not a ton. And so you’re wanting to get feedback from people before you go much further to, you know, make any further investment with the organization. So we’re moving into that what wows and then what works stage.

And as you can see with these kind of the way that these lines are drawn. The what is, you’re kind of opening it up. What if, you’re going real wide because that’s when you’re really thinking about what are all the different ways that we might do this? And then you start honing it in again about, okay, let’s look at it in terms of feasibility. Let’s look at it in terms of, you know, is this something that our users need? Does it meet the needs that they’ve defined? And so, in this testing phase, one of the key questions that you need to answer is what has to be true to make this a good idea? So this question really helps you uncover the assumptions that are built into any idea that you might have.

So I was working with some high school students, I think I mentioned, teaching them design thinking and they were working on the hospitality project. My team, their idea was to do a music festival, which is a little problematic in the days of COVID, but, you know, what needs to be true for that to be a good idea? Well, people need to want to go see the bands that you have on the festival. People need to want to go outside and be in a crowd, which is probably not true right now. So thinking about just all of those things that have to be true in order for this to be a good idea, and the reason you do that is so that you can then design the testing that you’re going to do with the people who might use the service that you’re designing.

So this is what our storyboards look like. So these are the same ones that I showed you, the very rough sketch that I showed you before. We were designing, in this case, a professional development program, and even before COVID, we were imagining it to be an online virtual program to enable people to do it around the country and around the world. And we did have an illustrator, like I said, clean them up a little bit so that they were more readable for the people that we were going to do testing with.

Another way that you can test out ideas without expending a lot is to do what’s called an explainer video. Dropbox actually used this to test their service before they went live. They just created a little video that explained their idea, explained how the service would work, and they emailed it out to everyone that they had contact with, and they really just measured how many times people watched the video, how many times it got forwarded to see the level of interest that they were generating from the idea, and then also asked for feedback. But that can be, you know, again, a simple . . . You haven’t built it, you haven’t designed it, you haven’t spent money writing a curriculum or anything, you know, you just do a video that kind of explains to people what it might be and see what their reaction is.

Another one I suggest do a webpage, again, that explains the idea and see what the traffic is. See, you know, are people clicking on it? Are people reading? Are people signing up for more information later? You’re starting to see whether the idea is resonating with folks.

And when we’re no longer social distancing, another option that’s become more and more popular is the kind of a pop-up. Again, not going full out, not making at all, you know, spending less money to try something out before you are . . . You know, you’re still in that testing phase and you’re seeing how people are reacting.

The way that we did it was to use those storyboards that we created, and I’ll show you a picture of those in a minute, but we did it in three different ways. We used one-to-one in-person interviews. We did one-to-one virtual interviews, again, this was long before COVID, but we have people all over the country, so we wanted to get feedback from different people. And then we did a focus group. We did focus groups in-person as well, and we approached these each a little bit differently. We were able to get kind of different levels of information.

The in-person interviews, if you can see, we had those storyboards on the wall, and we, you know, basically took people around and had them review each of the concepts, and then we just asked them a series of questions to test . . . That very first paragraph under the title before the comic strips was basically our summary of how we understood the challenge, what we saw the need to be.

And one of our questions was, well, how important is this to you? How much of a problem is it? And to test our assumption that this was actually something that was, you know, a challenge for people. And in one case, for one of the projects, it was around issue that was very important for the board that practitioners in the field start using research that researchers was using, but unfortunately, when we tested those ideas, in most cases, the need that we identified of not being able to access research easily, not being able to see how it applies, you know, was a nice-to-have for most people. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a need-to-have. And so we could create a solution for it, but if that need is not front and center, it’s unlikely that folks are going to use those solutions. So one of the first things you have to test is have we actually identified a critical need for people that they will want a solution to?

We also had them . . . you know. As I said, we have multiple solutions for our challenge, and we had them rank those five different options so that we could start to see what was really kind of bubbling up to the top and resonating to the top. And yeah, in most cases, in those interviews, we talked to about, you know, anywhere from 10 to 20 people during that a day. We happened to be at a big conference where all of the people that we served were there. We were able to invite people in, schedule them, and it was really interesting to see how . . . When we did the interviews in pairs, we did some of them in pairs and we did some of them solo, and even with just two people, I noticed that one person would talk 60% of the time and the other person a lot less, so I started doing all my interviews one-on-one so I could really hear and get everything from people.

We also did them virtual input sessions. We used Adobe Connect. If we were doing this today, we’d probably use Zoom, again, to get feedback from folks in just an hour. We just ask them for an hour and we ask them a series of questions. With the virtual input sessions, we found that we were only able to ask a couple of questions. We weren’t able to go in as much depth as we were with the in-person interviews, just I think because it just took that much longer. We had to go slide by slide or segment by segment and have people read them. It just took longer for them to absorb the concept than a big poster that’s in front of them.

And then the last way we did it was through in-person focus group, again, at another kind of conference where we were able to get an hour. And I, again, simplified. It was essentially an in-person survey. I wasn’t asking for a group conversation because I wanted to hear from each person, and so I just simplified the questions that we had made them, mostly closed-ended with one open-ended question and then ranking, so different ways. We had to kind of adjust the different circumstances to test this.

And from all of this, clearly the point is to learn and to iterate. So, in one case, we were working on I think I had mentioned, we were working on an instance where we were trying to create something for some senior leaders in the field. It was a group that we weren’t engaging as much as we wanted. And so we designed a couple of different options, and one that was getting a lot of traction was the idea, and nothing super innovative, honestly. It was an executive leadership development program. It just was one we didn’t have and there wasn’t one in the field.

But we also got super excited when we were designing it about a big kind of online wraparound community that was going to support this executive development, leadership development program. And the assumption at that point and this was, you know, again, pre-COVID was that it would be an in-person training, but we got super excited about the online component. And then we, you know, talked to people. We did all those testing processes, and the feedback that we got was that most of those executives just said, you know, “I’m probably never going to go to that online community. I would love to go to a training. I’m going to get to know people, but the likelihood that I’m going to keep up with something online is pretty low.”

So just that short piece of doing that testing meant that we saved a huge amount of money, where in the old traditional way, we might have gotten super excited about that. We’ve done a pilot, built a whole online community out, expended a lot of resources to create it, and then found, oops, nobody is using it. So just by doing some testing one day at a conference, you know, online, couple of hours with people, we were able to say, you know, “They like this piece, but we can drop this piece, and we don’t need to expend more energy on it.”

So the last phase is really once you’re taking in, you’ve kind of synthesized all that information that you’ve gathered through your testing, you’re starting to refine your idea, and one of the ways that we did kind of a next step of moving beyond just the storyboard and some short descriptions is we used what’s called the Mission Model Canvas. It’s based on the Business Model Canvas, and it just helps you think through for any kind of offering.

What are the key pieces that you have to think about? You know, who are the key partners that you’re going to work with? What are the key activities? What’s the steps that are going to have to happen to make this a reality? What are the resources we’re going to need? What’s that value proposition? Have we really defined what’s important for people, what need it’s addressing this solution? And then this is built for a nonprofit, so how much is this going to cost? But then also what’s the impact that this is going to have in terms of alignment to mission? And if you were doing a fee for service type of program, you would also have your revenue side, or if there’s potential for funding to offset those costs.

So the real point of design thinking is to dig into what people need, again, not asking them directly, but, you know, doing a little detective work, some conversations, some different ways to uncover what those real needs are, and then to come up with a number of different solutions in that what if stage, test them with people, so you’re doing that co-creation and getting their input before you spent a lot of money on it. It’s really a risk, in some ways, even though it’s all about innovation. It’s also about managing risk because, you know, not until you’ve really tested quite a few times, created different prototypes, built them out slowly to more higher fidelity or you’re spending a lot of money on help, you know, something that you’re actually going to invest in. So I think I skipped one of the polls, so let’s go ahead and do that.

Steven: Okay. Here we go.

Carol: So I’m curious to know. I’ve offered a lot of different ways that you can test things. Wondering what have been the ways that most of the time you’ve used to test out your ideas.

So looks like most people have voted at this point. Yeah. So described it to board members and committee members, very, very common way of testing things in nonprofit organizations. And it was really an interesting kind of test, if you will, of the kind of traditional approach of testing ideas to this approach. When we, in one of the cases of one of the projects we were working on, we did testing directly with, and this was a membership organization, so . . . Excuse me. We tested directly with folks who were most likely to avail themselves of the program, and we also presented it to the committee who was in charge of designing, and creating, and offering programming for that particular segment of our membership.

And what was so interesting was that just by being on that committee and kind of being a little bit more of an insider, we got very different reactions of what would be the most important from the committee members who are, you know, member leaders, people who are in leadership in the organization versus kind of the rank and file members that we would actually be selling this to. And this was a fee for service kind of program. And that kind of demonstrated to me that, you know, once you have volunteered, and obviously, we need our board members, we need our committee members for many things, but they already have a different perspective just by . . . they’re inside the organization a little bit more, they have a more insider knowledge. They know maybe, you know, how this aligns to the organization’s strategic plan and they’re not giving you that same kind of reaction to the person who might actually sign up or engage in the process.

So that’s why I think the process of testing with representatives of the folks who it’s actually designed for is so key rather than just relying on leaders. And then the pilot, you know, this gives you some options to start working on your ideas and getting input before you’re to the stage of building out an entire pilot. You know, a pilot obviously, is designed to be a smaller kind of trial, but most pilots take a lot of work, so this gives you some ways to kind of step into it before that.

So I don’t know that we can really do this, but I’d love to hear your answers. Other folks won’t see it, but just go ahead in the chat, just answer one of these questions, and then we’ll take some more time for a few more questions. I mean, just finish one of these sentences and then we’ll take some questions.

Yeah. This is a really flexible . . . Betsy said that it’d be a good method for figuring out how to structure a corporate partnership program. This is a very flexible method and, you know, you can really use it with different types of audiences. It’s all about getting in there, kind of doing that research, talking to them, getting their experience.

Yes. Somebody just said that they appreciated how concrete this is. Yes, I think when design thinking first became popular, the first descriptions of it were a little bit esoteric, so I am very much a fan of Jeanne Liedtka because she’s made it simple for kind of the rest of us.

So, Steve, just let me know what questions and comments there are, and we can round this out.

Steven: Yeah. Well, first, Carol, this was awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. Like I said at the top, I love hearing your presentations because I always learn a lot. And this was not a concept I was familiar with, so I was right there with a lot of the people filling out the polls. So thank you. Thank you. There’s lots of good chats coming here. I know you can see them, but people are talking about all of the things they learned.

You know, Carol, you and I were talking before we went live about kind of pre-COVID and post-COVID. I’m wondering if you might be willing to repeat kind of what you said to me about what changes you’ve seen, and you made a nice comment about kind of not letting the tools kind of overwhelm because it seems like everybody is on Zoom and doing all these virtual things. What’s sort of your take on maybe how people can do this kind of post-COVID when they’re all distanced?

Carol: Yeah. It’s still possible to do, and it’s done easier when you use some of those tools that have been designed to help people collaborate online. So I mentioned a couple, MURAL is one, M-U-R-A-L, Miro is another, M-I-R-O. They have templates that are designed thinking specific, already in them. They’re built for people to just, you know, double-click and a virtual Post-it Note pops up and then you write your idea, you can draw on them, pull in images. So it makes it even easier for people to be visual in some ways. If they don’t want to draw any stick figures, they can go on the web and grab some things, and just put it in, use some icons for making it visual.

So there’s really no reason why you can’t do it even as we’re working online, you know. Yeah. But you also want to make sure that people get comfortable with the tools so that they can really focus on the challenge that you’re working on versus worrying about how do I use this tool? I mentioned Jamboard. It’s one of the simplest and kind of lightweight versions of the online Post-it Note because it’s pretty much all you can do in it. So, yeah.

Steven: I’m writing all . . . I’m bookmarking all these because I want to share them with my team too. This is cool. A couple of people are asking who do you think should lead these sessions? Is it the ED or is it an outside expert? Who do you think should kind of be in charge of this process if it begins?

Carol: I think if you have an executive director leading, I mean, it depends on the culture of the organization. It could be a really good leadership opportunity, leadership development opportunity for someone in the middle or kind of further down the ranks to be the facilitator of a process and lead people through it. Obviously, they have to learn how to do it. I know here in D.C. there’s a group called Design Thinking D.C. and they do workshops, and now, of course, they’re online so people outside of D.C. can learn about it.

I actually originally took a MOOC, massive open online course that was done by Jeanne Liedtka to learn about design thinking. We also worked with a consultant and I told him, “By the time we’re done with this, I want to be able to do what you do.” So there are lots of different ways to approach it. IDEO, which is one of the companies out of Silicon Valley that kind of popularized this has IDEO University and they have a toolkit for the social sector that I’m pretty sure you can download from their . . . you know. I think it’s ideo.edu, and you can download it for free.

Steven: That’s cool.

Carol: So there’s lots of different ways. I mean, certainly, having some help is good and there are resources if you don’t have the capacity for that.

Steven: Since you mentioned being a professional development opportunity, someone in the chat was wondering, are there certifications? Is there, like, a formal program to be design thinking certified? Is there anything like that?

Carol: Yeah. There is. The d.school at Stanford certifies people. University of Virginia Darden School, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times, they certify people. Like I said, there are online courses. I can’t remember where I took mine, whether it was Coursera or Udemy, one of those big online courses, you know. So you can pay a little bit to get a digital badge saying that you’ve completed. But yeah, different places are doing that now so you can get certified in it.

Steven: Nothing wrong with having a certification from Stanford on your resume.

Carol: That’s right.

Steven: Looks pretty nice. I’ll look into.

Carol: I will share that. I’m guessing that they’re doing it online now.

Steven: Yeah. Here’s a question that I love, but I really love it because, Carol, you and I were talking about a diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative that you’re getting off the ground, and the question was about applying design thinking to maybe improving that within the organization. Do you think that’s a good topic to sort of utilize or leverage this sort of process in when you’re trying to figure out, okay, are we really practicing diversity? You know, can we improve there? Do you think that applies?

Carol: I kind of feel like I need to give that one more thought. And I think the danger in this approach is when there’s a little . . . In that first stage, if you’re not sensitive in the way that you do your research, especially in a community, if you don’t have a relationship with them, you know, if you’re trying to start some community engagement and you already haven’t built trust, it may feel extractive from the community and certainly, all sorts of different research instances in the sector have bled into that, so it’s something to be mindful of.

I think I’d probably try to do some other types of work around diversity, equity, and inclusion first before I use this method, just so that people are really mindful of how they’re engaging with people, how they’re asking them questions. At the same time, I think the thing that it’s really strong in is that it prioritizes people’s lived experience, and so you’re really asking people about that, and you’re centering that. And I’m centering a train that’s going by, so sorry about that. And so I think in that way, you know, with some good skills already, it could be applied.

Steven: That makes sense. That seems really prudent. Wow. This is awesome, Carol. I feel like we could talk all day about this stuff. It’s almost 3:00. I want to give you the last word. Where can people get ahold of you, follow you, check out some of your other trainings?

Carol: Yeah. So this is where you can find me at gracesocialsector.com. I’ve got some free resources on my website that are kind of design thinking related. I’ve got a little e-book that kind of describes that case that I went through and shows how groups did storyboarding, and then I also got a template for the customer journey map, so a couple of different resources that people can grab. And yeah.

Steven: That’s awesome. Yeah. Check out the website, obviously, a wealth of knowledge, and this was fun. Carol, thanks for coming back. We’ll have to not wait a year next time.

Carol: That sounds good.

Steven: Even though it may feel like the way time kind of moves right now. So this is great, and thanks to all of you for hanging out for an hour. I know everybody is busy, but it’s always nice to see, you know, 200, 300 people hang out with us every Thursday or whenever we’re doing webinars. We’re doing a couple a week now.

And speaking of upcoming webinars, I’m going to bring back my slides here real quick because I want to talk about when we got coming up on Wednesday. This is a part two of a special two-part series. If you missed a Dr. Robin last month, she gave a great presentation on getting your board really passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion. She’s going to come back and finish the presentation. So if you missed part one, that’s okay, we got a recording on our website. You can get caught up before Wednesday, but she is so awesome. It was one of my favorite webinars that we’ve done, period, not just this year, so join us for part two and grab the recording. It’s on our webinar page. You’ll see it there. If you’re not free, that’s okay. We’re going to record it, and we got lots of other webinars coming up, so check out our webinar page. Really cool topics for sure. I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else, especially not for free.

So we’ll call it a day there. Like I said, at the top, look for an email from me with the sides, the recording. I’ll send all that out this afternoon. You’ll have it before dinner time. I promise. And hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe week. Stay healthy, please. We’re all thinking about you. We need you, and hopefully, we’ll see you again for another session. See you.

Carol: All right. Thanks so much. And that sounds like a really interesting webinar next week.

Steven: Yeah, she’s awesome.

Carol: I might be popping on for that.

Steven: Yeah. Chat me if you do.

Carol: I will.

Steven: All right. See you.

Carol: All right. Thank you so much, everybody.

Steven: Bye.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. She also serves as the Director of Communications for PRSA’s Hoosier chapter.
Kristen Hay